A Night In The Life Of An MC

Volume 13, Issue 1  | 
Published 21/07/2016
John Sibi-Okumu

In this regular column a teacher, writer and media personality starts from personal anecdote to present an outsider’s reflections on the experience of a different community. The views expressed are entirely his own. His website: www.johnsibi-okumu.com

Website: johnsibi-okumu.com

In this regular column a teacher, writer and media personality starts from personal anecdote to present an outsider’s reflections on the experience of a different community. The views expressed are entirely his own. His website: www.johnsibiokumu.com  

Isn’t it curious how we meet people quite randomly at first, only for them to re-emerge much later in our lives, with ever deepening connections? I first met Smita Shah and her husband Kirit as the mother and father of Mitul and Nishma, youngsters who took an obvious shine to me as their high school French teacher. My relationship with the parents evolved to the point where we became guests in each other’s homes. So when, decades on, Smita asked if I could be master of ceremonies for a fundraiser for the Amara Charitable Trust, with which she was involved, I really couldn’t say no.

The first necessity was to meet her fellow board members over tea at her house. I was reminded of the fact that Jains like her do not eat meat. Next was a four hour rehearsal at the Visa Oshwal Centre in Nairobi, the eventual location, during which I was introduced to the performers, including musicians, as well as the technical crew.

The awaited day, January 9th, 2016, duly arrived and I headed for the venue via my health club in order to shower and change into my black suit and bow tie outfit. It was pretty much house full, that is about 500 people, when I registered ‘zero hour,’ at 7:30 pm. Things got off to a good start when  I received a huge round of applause for  saying that I was delighted to have taught half the people in the hall. That was not quite true but a bit of hyperbole is never a bad thing in such circumstances and at least I now knew that the audience wasn’t going to prove hostile and uncooperative, an MC’s nightmare. The time had come for my pièce de résistance: a few words in phonetically rendered Hindi, followed by translations into English. Sab Bache bhagvaan ki den heh (We all believe that children are God's gift to humanity).Orr sub Maa Her Bhache ke liye Bhagvaan  Ki den heh (And all mothers are God's gift to children).

Amara, Kenya ke her Bhache ke liye Che Maataon ki den heh.(Amara is the gift of 6 mothers to every Kenyan child). Orr voh Che maatao ke naam heh - Varsha, Smita, Manisha, Priti, Bansi orr Bindi. (And the names of these 6 mothers are: Varsha, Smita, Manisha, Priti, Bansi and Bindi).That went down very well, too, although my perfectionist language coach Sarita Vidyarthi – another parent turned friend who was there to see me in action – later told me that a few inflections weren’t quite right but my meaning had been quite clear. Thank goodness I had not suggested something embarrassingly other. In any case, the butterflies were beginning to disappear and I was buoyed to usher in the programme proper. First of all, I introduced the guest speaker, Mrs. Vijoo Rattansi, chairperson of the Rattansi Trust and current chancellor of the University of Nairobi whom I described from past acquaintance and inspired by the initials of her first name (an old trick) as being vigorous, industrious, jocular, outgoing and outstanding. Then came the first view of the performers with segments given over to our feline Sarakasi dancers, moving it to a Bollywood hit. They were followed by Wanny Angerer, a professional singer for more than 25 years, originally from Honduras, together with her all Kenyan Moving Cultures group, purveyors of World Music. Then there was the novelty performance by Nikolina Nikoleski, born in Croatia but now running her own dance school in Delhi. Her profile revealed that she had worked with such legends as Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham as well as the Royal Ballet in London.

She began with an undulating bharat natyam before being joined by Wanny Angerer in a fusion piece. Although the acts were seamless, we had reached a preordained half way point, after which the last of the performers, Miss Nikoleski, would be allowed 10 minutes in which to change so as to begin a second round of separate performances, but in reverse order. So, the show was brought to a close by a heartstopping, tight rope act from the Sarakasi Dancers. The audience particularly warmed to Moving Culture’s rendering of the Kiswahili golden oldie, Pole Musa and also to Ms. Nikoleski’s dancing to Ravel’s Bolero. However, during the mental break, my brief was to encourage more donations. We had discussed all manner of approaches, including auctioning bars of chocolate. But in the end I decided to invoke William Shakespeare: citing the beginning of the play King Lear when the aged monarch wants to apportion land to each of his three daughters and asks them, portentously: ‘Which of you shall we say doth love us most?’ I asked partisan members of the audience to express their love for me instead, but at a declared, gradating price, starting at 50,000 shillings. By the time we finished with ourselves, we had received pledges, later to be honoured in their entirety I was told, for just over a million shillings. Not bad at all.

Smita Shah, Manisha Dave, Priti Shah, Bansi Shah and Bindi Shah, led by Vasha Vora, the ‘Super Six,’ as I called them, had been running the Amara (Kiswahili for ‘united labour’) Charitable Trust for the last seven years. In that time they have helped to raise close to fifty million shillings, targeting a part of the Ukambani area about 40 kilometres from Nairobi. Their philanthropic initiative is noteworthy for its ‘hands on’ approach. The trust does have an administrator in Diana Nzisa but, other than that, the Super Six oversee their philanthropic mission themselves, with regular, weekend drives to designated projects. Consequently, administration costs routinely account for no more than 5% of their designated budget and with an unassailable respect for honesty and transparency their professionally audited accounts can always be presented on demand. And neither do they pay themselves. At one point in the proceedings, I made the risqué quip that they would do well to run the country at large.

In the seven years of its existence, the Amara Charitable trust has built eight school structures, with playgrounds wherever possible. The schools are encouraged to be self-sustaining, by setting up vegetable gardens, for example. I,800 children are fed one wholesome meal every day and some also enjoy a bowl of porridge in the mornings. To date, the trust has also overseen the construction of one healthcare centre.

It was a long evening – two and a half hours in all- but almost everybody was still there when it came to an end, with dancing on the stage and in the aisles. The announcement was made that with ticket sales included, on quick calculation, close to four million shillings had been raised: a tidy sum in the local economy. The verdict was that the event was a resounding success. Driving home, I had the rewarding feeling that I and the other pro bono contributors had made a small but significant contribution towards making the lives of others happier.

Copyright: John Sibi-Okumu

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